Vital signs report

A fully updated Vital signs report covering the whole of the North East England was published online in November 2017. Behind it were four in-depth research reports covering Northumberland, Tyne & wear, County Durham and Tees Valley. Now for the first time we can offer philanthropists and charitable funders a comprehensive picture of local needs, and suggested priorities, to inform their charitable giving.

30% of poor people who find work remain in poverty


Poverty emerged as the primary issue affecting our region. The North east remains one of the poorest regions in the UK, with high rates of benefit dependency and low paid employment. Over 20,000 children are reliant on food banks, whilst 17% of the adult population is in serious debt. The signs and symptoms of such deprivation are easily detectable in South East Northumberland or urban areas in Tyne & Wear. But poverty can also exist hidden in small pockets in prosperous market towns, or as a blight on the lives of individuals in isolated rural communities experiencing a lack of local services, poor public transport and high fuel costs. It is a problem that can only become more marked as public services continue to shrink, and which undermines community cohesion and local quality of life by fuelling social problems such as low educational attainment, unemployment, poor health and crime. Poverty on this scale is perhaps not a problem that can be solved by local philanthropists alone, but it is one where, with their support, charities can transform the prospects of individuals and their families.

Mental Health

A second major area of need was mental health and wellbeing. Our region does not do well on national well being measures. Alongside higher than average rates of mental illness, we identified a major concern about the prevalence of self harm. Our region is largely bucking the downward national trend in this regard, with a  marked increase in suicide rates across Tyne and Wear and Northumberland since 2008. Whilst mental ill health can affect people from all backgrounds, and all stages of life, those experiencing disadvantage seem particularly vulnerable. Of course, much work in this area is funded by government and should not be duplicated with charitable funding. but there is a role for good “quality services” such as mother and toddler sessions, practical advice and support, self -help groups and volunteering and befriending schemes. These can reduce the harm to mental health and well being that may be caused by problems such as childhood deprivation, unemployment, homelessness, long-term ill health, alcohol/drug dependency and social isolation in rural areas. 

Reported hate crime doubled between 2014and 2016.

Prospering Community

Diversity and inclusion was a third area of need that vital signs flagged up as important to address. For our communities to prosper we need to harness the talents of all our people and maintain social harmony. Yet some of our minority communities- ranging from disabled people (23% of the population) to older people (17%) and black and ethnic minorities (5%) – experience substantial disadvantage and social exclusion. The problem can manifest itself in areas such as work, where unemployment is higher for groups such as black or disabled people. At worst it can be expressed as hate crime, which in our area rose by 202% from 2016. As well as supporting these communities to address the challenges they face, philanthropic funding can help build the strength of self-help organisations and so enable them to become better at accessing other sources of funding. 


Community Foundation spend per head in South Tyneside and Sunderland is 29% lower than in the rest of Tyne & Wear and Northumberland

Funding “coldspots” was our Vital Signs priority. The voluntary sector has more capacity to secure charitable funds in some parts of our area, and donors often start out with a natural preference for funding projects near to home. As a result, Northumberland and Newcastle are better served than other parts of our area. In the past funding from government and national funders have helped ensure that other areas do not miss out.,  but now those sources of support have largely disappeared. Our intention is to encourage doners to consider whether they might support more projects in areas like North Tyneside, Gateshead, Sunderlandand and South Tyneside. The latter area is a priority because Vital signs research revealed that the level philanthropic spending there through the community Foundation is very low, despite it being one of the most deprived areas within our patch.

Vital signs covers the full range of philanthropic causes, including areas such as the arts, culture and heritage and the environment not mentioned above. Whatever your priorities for charitable giving, we hope you will find it informative and that it will inspire your giving.

You can read our Vital Signs reports in full and comment on them , at

Mark Pierce Director of Community Knowledge and Funding

Serving Tyne & Wear and Northumberland